James Lawton earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Constructive Design at Florida State University, Tallahassee in 1976 and MFA in Ceramics at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge in 1980.  

Lawton joined the faculty at the College of Visual and Performing Arts at UMass Dartmouth in 1998 and retired in 2021 as Professor of Ceramics and former Chair of the Artisanry Department. He has held appointments at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago 1992-98, where he was tenured Professor and chair, as well as visiting professorships at Alfred University, Louisiana State University, and University of Michigan. Additionally, he leads workshops and presents lectures across the country and abroad.

He was on the Board of Trustees of the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, an artist residency located in Newcastle, Maine from 2000-2015, and served previously on the Board of Studio Potter Magazine 2001-2004.

Lawton has received numerous awards, including two National Endowment Visual Arts Fellowships, the South Carolina Artist Fellowship Grant, and academic research grants from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  He was elected a member of the International Academy of Ceramics in 2011.
Lawton’s work is in the collections of the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; L.A. County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; the Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC; the Museum of Ceramic Art, Alfred, NY; ICRC Guldagergaard, Skælskør/Denmark;
and the Icheon World Ceramic Center, South Korea, among others; and in numerous private collections.

Lawton maintains studios in New Bedford, MA and Bluffton, SC.